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Marines Will Comply With Hawaii Law Raising Smoking Age to 21

A Marine smokes a cigarette after an attack at Patrol Base Bracha in the Garmsir district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 9, 2009. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps)
A Marine smokes a cigarette after an attack at Patrol Base Bracha in the Garmsir district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 9, 2009. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps)

Starting Jan. 1, Hawaii-based Marines will have to be 21 to smoke -- or they could face state and Marine Corps penalties.

In an administrative message released today, Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Lt. Gen. Mark Brilakis  announced the Corps would cooperate with a new Hawaii law that raises the minimum age to use or purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. The law, signed in June, is intended to stop people from becoming habitual smokers. Hawaii officials have told media outlets that 99 percent of people who smoke start the habit before age 21.

Brilakis said he was directing all stores aboard Marine Corps installations in Hawaii to stop selling tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco and electronic smoking devices, to anyone under 21. Marine Corps and Navy personnel and dependents, as well as other family members, guests and base residents, will be expected to comply with the new law, Brilakis said.

"Personnel cited by state and local police for violations of Hawaii's tobacco laws are subject to fines and community service imposed by the state," he said.

Punishments stipulated by the law include a fine of between $10 and $50 for anyone under 21 who purchases or possesses tobacco products. Those who sell or give tobacco products to people under 21 will be fined between $500 and $2,000.  Community service hours may also be ordered as punishment.

While it's not clear yet how the Marine Corps will punish those who break the law, Brilakis said that additional guidance from Headquarters Marine Corps would be forthcoming to address "administrative and military justice aspects related to noncompliance."

Brilakis directed commanders to consult Marine attorneys, or staff judge advocates, on enforcement issues that arise. Commanders are also expected to share information about the new law with their civilian workforce, he said.

Notably, the new law does not apply to Navy ships in Hawaii, which do not fall under state and local jurisdictions. The message released by Brilakis notes that ships' stores are not obligated to limit sale of tobacco in compliance with the law either.

For the Marine Corps, enforcing compliance with the new law may be a challenge in a culture in which smoking is far more prevalent than it is in the general population. According to a 2011 DoD survey, nearly 31 percent of Marines smoke, the highest rate of all the Armed Forces. Only 17 percent of the total American population smokes, according to the Center for Disease Control. The same 2011 survey found that the Marine Corps also had the highest rates of smokeless tobacco use of all military branches at 21.3 percent. The survey did not break down Marines' smoking habits by age, but Marine Corps data shows that nearly 30 percent of all enlisted Marines are under age 21.

For those who already smoke, Brilakis recommended tobacco cessation programs and counseling available from military treatment facilities and branch health clinics. He also directed troops to the Department of Defense Quit Tobacco program, which was launched in 2007.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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